Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Mon Nov 28 07:54:57 UTC 2011

Here is a word which is not encountered very often: in fact I can't find
another instance.

Presbyterian Church in the USA, _The Church at Home and Abroad_: v. 22,
p. 470 (1897):

[letter from East Asia, reporting church activities in Korea]

<<Among the men who crowded up at the close was the leader of the
congregation at Chung Wha, who, like hundreds of others, could not read
before he was a Christian. The new life begat new ambitions. The new
brotherhood gave friendly help, and now he reads both Chinese and
Varnum, the written Korean character.>>

The characteristic Korean writing system (as opposed to Chinese), which
was just becoming 'official' in the 1890's although invented way back
when, is usually called something like "Hangul"/"Hangeul" (한글), right?
But apparently this name for the system dates only from 1912. Was it
called something like "Varnum" earlier? Not likely in Korean AFAIK:
Korean isn't big on /v/ or even /f/. Was there (say) some Professor
Varnum involved in 19th century modification or promulgation of the
Korean orthography? I can't find any mention of such a Varnum person.

The Korean orthographic system was called various things before it was
called "Hang[e]ul": apparently the most usual which was used in English
was 언문, like /Vnmun/, "Eonmun" in the latest preferred Romanization in
2011. There have been various ways of writing the word, including:

Onmun (in MW3)
Enmun (in MW3)
Wenmun (in the on-line Century Dictionary)

I speculate that the word "Varnum" represents a plain error for one of
these, illegible in a handwritten letter (cursive "U" or "O" can easily
resemble "V", and the last part of the word would be an ambiguous
serrated line in many cursive hands).

Any better ideas?

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society -

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